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Rishi Sunak Scraps 11 New Smart Motorways

The building of 11 new smart motorways is being cancelled as prime minister Rishi Sunak admitted there are concerns about their safety and cost.

Fourteen planned smart motorways – including 11 that are already paused,  and three that are due for construction – will be removed from government road-building plans as a result of financial pressures, and the growing disquiet from drivers and campaigners.

The Department for Transport said that the projects would have cost more than £1bn.

However two under-construction projects at junctions six to eight of the M56 and 21a to 26 of the M6, will continue, as these projects are already more than three-quarters complete.

Existing stretches of motorways already converted to all-lane running will remain and will be refitted to increase the number of emergency stopping places with 150 more safety refuges across the motorway network.

Around 10 per cent of England’s motorway network is made up of smart motorways.

They involve various measures aimed at managing the flow of traffic, such as the conversion of the hard shoulder into a live traffic lane and the use of variable speed limits.

But there have long been concerns about their safety, following fatal incidents in which vehicles that have stopped in live lanes on roads without a hard shoulder were hit from behind.

Campaigners claim that 79 deaths have been caused by the lack of a safe hard shoulder and deficient safety measures designed to close a running lane in the event of a breakdown. The move follows years of campaigning by families of victims, including Clare Mercer whose husband Jason perished on the M1 in 2019 after new measures were implemented.

A minor accident turned to a double tragedy when a lorry hit Jason and fellow motorist Alexandru Murgeanu, apparently as they were exchanging insurance details.

In January 2022, the government paused the expansion of motorways where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane. This was to enable five years’ worth of data to be collected to assess whether the concerns over driver safety are justified.

In his Tory party leadership campaign last summer, Mr Sunak vowed to ban smart motorways.

“All drivers deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country,” the prime minister said on Saturday. “That’s why last year I pledged to stop the building of all new smart motorways, and today I’m making good on that promise.

“Many people across the country rely on driving to get to work, to take their children to school and go about their daily lives, and I want them to be able to do so with full confidence that the roads they drive on are safe.”

Transport secretary Mark Harper said: “We want the public to know that this government is listening to their concerns.

It’s good to see that common sense has at last prevailed. It’s inexcusable that 79 people had to die before the government decided that when it comes to road safety, saving money never saves lives.